Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 236-242 Reminds Us that Using Our Reason with God in Mind Will Lead to the Effective Execution of Social Justice

Again, these divorce laws never cease to amaze me in their understanding of social justice. A man, according to his means, must provide for his divorced wife (presumably, so long as she is not being supported by another). I would like to point out though that these laws are most effective and necessary in a society in which men work and women, well, women work too but not necessarily for a paycheck. In many societies today I would argue that, barring a prenuptial agreement, a woman should get diddlysquat when she is divorced (if she initiates it or doesn’t keep up her end of the marriage) because she is entirely capable of making her own way, getting a job, supporting herself, etc.

Okay, perhaps diddlysquat is a little harsh. It’s not easy to live 40 years unemployed and then suddenly work to support yourself, with no 401k (not that anybody has those anymore anyway) or experience. However, I do think that a divorced woman in a society that allows her to, should be required to work to support herself, even if she still requires assistance from her previous husband. But those are my opinions which are only relevant in certain societies. In the days that the Quran was revealed, for a long time afterward and in many places today, this is still a necessary law. It’s also spun in a surprisingly nice way: if it happens that things don’t work out with your wife, be a good person and support her in whatever way you are able.

The God-Consciousness in reference to the social injunctions again underscores the importance of interacting with each other in such a way that God would approve. As this has been a theme so far I imagine that it will continue to be one, and Asad’s note points out that prayer is the most intimate form of God-consciousness – hence its place here.

This entire talk then ends brilliantly: with God providing commands this way so that people can use their reason. In what way, I would ask? And then answer, vaguely. The amount of alimony hasn’t been specified, the acceptable legal behavior hasn’t been specified (so far), and I think that’s because of exactly what the Quran states here: that God doesn’t want to solve all of our problems for us and sort out every little detail. He wants us to use our reason and be good people. We can do this most effectively by keeping Him in our minds and always acting in accord with the knowledge that he is watching us and knows what’s in our hearts.

Please feel free to comment, correcting or adding to what I’ve said here.

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The Cow 236-242

236. You will incur no sin if you divorce women while you have not yet touched them nor settled a dower upon them; but [even in such a case] make provision for them – the affluent according to his means, and the straitened according to his means – a provision in an equitable manner: this is a duty upon all who would do good. 237. And if you divorce them before having touched them, but after having settled a dower upon them, then [give them] half of what you have settled – unless it be that they forgo their claim or he in whose hand is the marriage-tie* forgoes his claim [to half of the dower]: and to forgo what is due to you is more in accord with God-consciousness. And forget not [that you are to act with] grace towards one another: verily, God sees all that you do. 238. BE EVER mindful of prayers, and of praying in the most excellent way;* and stand before God in devout obedience. 239. But if you are in danger, [pray] walking or riding; and when you are again secure, bear God in mind – since it is He who taught you what you did not previously know. 240. AND IF any of you die and leave wives behind, they bequeath thereby to their widows [the right to] one year’s maintenance without their being obliged to leave [the dead husband’s home].* If, however, they leave [of their own accord], there shall be no sin in whatever they may do with themselves in a lawful manner.** And God is almighty, wise. 241. And the divorced women, too, shall have [a right to] maintenance in a goodly manner:* this is a duty for all who are conscious of God. 242. In this way God makes clear unto you His messages, so that you might [learn to] use your reason.

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7 Responses

  1. Jay–Again you bring up some interesting points.
    I, generally feel that the Quranic gender attitudes are more advanced than the gender attitudes in our societies at present. Ofcourse—as a young women–I thought the Quran might be favouring women too much!!–but when I had children–I began to understand better what the Quran was saying.

    1)In the Quran, the husband/man has the responsibilty of supporting the family (and protecting them) this does not imply that women are less capable of men in doing the same. Nor does it imply that women have no responsibility. They do–only that men have the primary responsiblity when they are around.

    2)In Islam Marriage is a contract—So prenup/nuptial agreement is automatically included.

    3) When wife initiates divorce she gives back the dower-unless agreement specifies differently.

    4) Working women—Women can work and contribute to the family (and generally that would be the case) But they are not OBLIGATED TO. That means–if a woman is working and contributes little or nothing to the family—it is OK. Believe me!! when it comes to family—we women tend to feel guilty about every little thing!!! So, the Quran is addressing this inherent problem. And you can see what happened when western feminism did not address this problem—it led to the “superwoman complex” where women were told “You can do it all/You can have it all”—meaning they can be perfect wives, mothers, and career women—(and the bias that comes with it –that if they did not “have it all”–they were somehow “less”) But being a “superwoman” can be exhausting and there is little time for spirituality. The Quran tells a woman–Its OK not to “have it all”. It is OK to make choices. A woman does not have to feel guilty if she is not the perfect “mother” or “housewife” or career woman—they are respected regardless.

    Is it any wonder that most muslim women prefer the Quranic concept of Gender equality rather than the western idea of feminism?

  2. @ Kay: Is it any wonder that most muslim women prefer the Quranic concept of Gender equality rather than the western idea of feminism?

    So nice to see a woman say this; when a guy says it we’re ignored or not believed.

    @ Jay: …a woman should get diddlysquat when she is divorced…

    That’s typical American male thinking. 😉 Start asking women that question and see what types of answers you get. 😉

    I’m glad you noted that in many societies, financial maintenance for the ex-wife is necessary. And, personally, I don’t think there’s any reason not to include even countries with advanced economies like the US in that list. One of the benefits, I think, to requiring the financial maintenance is that it provides yet another reason why men (in particular) should think twice about divorce and, instead, try to work toward saving the marriage. It should be noted that there are two components to the maintenance: the nafkah iddah and the muta’ah. The nafkah iddah is the maintenance required for women during their period of iddah, that is, the waiting period women are required to undergo when there is some break in the marriage (e.g., divorce, widowhood, etc.; see 2:226, 228, 234). The muta’ah or “consolatory gift” is additional money due to the wife should there be a divorce. If you’re familiar with economic/financial jargon, think of the muta’ah as the woman’s opportunity cost for marrying the husband. The husband is required to pay x number of dollars for every day the couple has been married. When I took my marriage preparation class, I was told what the muta’ah was at that time here in S’pore, a fairly nominal amount of I think less than $2/day. However, even assuming the amount is $2/day, that comes to $730/year (or $732 for a leap year). Add up all those years one is married and the number can become huge. So, all the more reason for a man to pursue reconciliation with his wife.

    On a separate note, I dislike Asad’s translation of 2:238. Yusuf Ali’s translation reads, “Guard strictly your (habit of) prayers, especially the Middle Prayer; and stand before God in a devout (frame of mind).” Pickthall’s translation reads, “Be guardians of your prayers, and of the midmost prayer, and stand up with devotion to Allah.” Both translations state that one should be vigilant not only for all one’s prayers but especially for the “middle/midmost” prayer, which is ‘Asr, the late afternoon prayer. Asad tackles this in his footnote for the verse, but I think his reasoning is weak in this particular instance. I find the tafsir of Ibn Kathir on this verse much more satisfying.

  3. When I first read the words opportunity cost I almost laughed aloud – not at the concept itself or its importance. Just at the use of the term in this context and how very apt it is. A woman is taking a much larger gamble on a marriage biologically, economically and otherwise, and if it’s not her fault that a divorce occurs then she should be compensated for exactly that opportunity cost. I see your point and appreciate that idea. In fact, if those were her fertile years that she gave up, I’ve half a mind to say that she deserves more.

    As for my typical American male thinking, that’s definitely a fair assessment of my thoughts, I’ll grant you. And I know that my feelings about this come from my culture. However, I’ve thought about it and haven’t just arrived here because I’m an American male.

    I believe that male and female responsibilities should go further in either direction if need be. This relates to Kay’s Superwoman comment. I don’t think it’s terrible that women feel that way, as much as I think it’s terrible that men made them feel that way without – as a gender – being willing to pick up the necessary slack.

    What I mean is that a woman should get to be a mother and an executive and whatever else she wants but the man should be fulfilling the other half of all those roles as needed. Many men just stayed in the workplace and expected the woman to take care of the usual, plus work full time. That’s unacceptable. I think that I, and other men, should be comprising on our careers and pulling half of the at-home weight around (cooking, being there for kids, etc.) if both parents choose to work. Alternatively, if the woman chooses to pursue a career, I don’t think there’s any shame in a man taking care of the kids and the household needs. Of course, you don’t want to end up with some Stepford Wives situation 😉 but barring that, I think that would be equality – not the Superwoman situation but the Supercouple situation.

  4. Supercouple—Sounds great—that should have been the goal of western feminism from the biginning.

    Male slacking—I havn’t experienced it myself–but from what I understood of the situation–apparently some women were unwilling/uncomfortable to give up their “territory”/positon as caretakers/boss of house and family. (People analyzing it felt cultural attitudes played a role.) So it was not completely the mens fault.

    I was working when my children were born—So they had to go to daycare—It was emotionally tough on me. My husband loved the kids just as much as I did–yet he was able to go off to work every morning without feeling guilty about it(–lucky him) Fortunately–I owned my own business so I was able to delegate a lot to my staff–nevertheless there came a time when we decided that one of us had to stay home. My husband offerred to. He was an excellent parent as was I. In the end, the children’s needs came first—at that time they needed their mom more than their dad—and that was that.—Sometimes, things look good in theory—but human nature and its dynamics don’t always work as neatly as theories. In bussiness—there is instant gratification/approval. Your quaterly figures look good, or you’ve negotiated a successful deal, ….etc and you know where you are and how well you are doing. —It is measureable—that is not the case with parenting. Will your kids be good people? will they be happy and successful? –You have to wait a long time to find out!!!

    The Quran does not discourage women from having a career—but it allows for choices. —AND it gives recognition that for some women—choices may be naturally more limited simply through circumstances(and no fault of their own or anyone elses).

  5. @ Kay: Is it any wonder that most muslim women prefer the Quranic concept of Gender equality rather than the western idea of feminism?

    So nice to see a woman say this; when a guy says it we’re ignored or not believed.

    JD–brought up an interesting point. “Quranic gender equality” and “legal practice” are two different things.
    In some legal interpretations—an ingeneous method is used to subvert the rights of women. Its called “Guardianship”–in which —in the interest of protecting women’s interests and their rights–the decision-making is left to a “Guardian” —who is ofcourse a male.—Thus one does not (supposedly)go against the Quran—yet manages to accomplish what was intended.

  6. Kay, I never really thought about the internal drive of a woman to remain with her kids more than her husband would have in a work-a-day-world sense, but your own experiences shed an interesting light on that. Biologically and evolutionarily I understand but I always figured once everyone was given the opportunity to be equal – really equal – and if balance were really in place then women could have the same things as men and be equally fulfilled and the kids would be raised equally by both of them, etc. Thanks for sharing your personal experience to illuminate this difficulty between theory and practice better.

    And I’m sure your kids turned out great 🙂

  7. My kids are teens now and need their Dad more than their Mom—-and that is just great!!!!—I can now pursue different opportunities!!!!

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